By Gerard Bon PARIS (Reuters) - Veteran French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen launched his 2007 presidential bid on Monday declaring his anti-immigrant views were gaining ground and that government scandals showed France was now a "banana republic". Le Pen, who shocked France by coming second in the 2002 race against President Jacques Chirac, told a rally outside the Paris Opera that the tough stand on immigration taken by his right-wing rivals showed strong public support for a crackdown. He spoke one day before Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, a leading conservative presidential hopeful, introduces a bill to tighten immigration laws. Opposition parties, church leaders and immigrant groups have denounced it as discriminatory. "I believe I can win both rounds of the presidential election," Le Pen, 77, told about 3,000 cheering supporters of his National Front party. "Our ideas are gaining ground." He also lashed out at an alleged smear campaign French media say Chirac and his Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin may have organized against Sarkozy. Both deny any role in it. "Lies of state are now the rule in our banana republic," he told the crowd, many of whom carried maps of France emblazoned with the "Love it or leave it" slogan that Sarkozy and Le Pen's far-right rival Philippe de Villiers have been using. Referring to the 1960s slogan often shouted at Americans protesting against the Vietnam War, Le Pen said: "We were the first to use this in France, though to be completely honest, I have to say it comes from the United States." Analysts say support for Le Pen seems to have risen thanks to diverse factors such as weeks of rioting by suburban youths of mostly immigrant origin last autumn, student protests this spring and scandals marking the end of Chirac's presidency. RIGHTIST ALLIANCE Le Pen is now running at 12-14 percent support in opinion polls, compared to 7-9 percent one year before the 2002 election in which he knocked Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin out of the running in the first voting round. Given that a dozen or more parties tend to run in the first of the election's two rounds, a candidate can sometimes make it to the run-off with around 20 percent of the vote. Le Pen reached the 2002 second round with only 17 percent to Chirac's 20 percent. The president trounced him in the run-off with 82 percent support because voters of almost all stripes backed him as a protest against the National Front. Le Pen urged his closest rivals to join him in a far-right alliance to increase their chances of reaching the second round. Villiers, who has based his campaign on warnings against what he calls the Islamisation of France and now garners about 4 percent support, has declined to join him. But a renegade former ally, Bruno Megret, has agreed to close ranks. While Le Pen's National Front marched, the capital's Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe laid a wreath at the site where a Moroccan immigrant drowned after being thrown into the Seine River during a similar rally in 1995. More than 5,000 marchers protested on Saturday against the immigration bill, which would tighten rules on relatives joining families here, make language and civics lessons required for newcomers and cut back on long-term residence permits. Separately, Catholic Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard and Jean-Arnold Clermont, head of the French Protestant Federation, met Villepin to express their concern about the new measures.